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Thursday, 18 March 2010

Newgate Gaol

I am just reading as part of my research for my current book, The Gaol by Kelly Grovier. Anyone writing a historical novel set in London should read this - Newgate Gaol was a cultural icon for hundreds of years as it housed the murderers, thieves and felons that were the sensations of the day.

This has lots to interest the general reader too -

Beautifully written, each chapter is titled by a name from the thieves slang or canting of 1725, so there are lovely words such as pink'd, chive, snaffle and skrip. Added to this, it paints a  vivid and lurid picture of a world before proper policing, where convictions were made on scant evidence, and prison officials were brutal when bribed and even more so if you had not the means to pay.

Highly recommended.

Still I am wondering why I seem to spend so much of my life obsessed with prisons. For The Lady's Slipper I was hanging around (excuse the pun!) Lancaster Gaol, (known locally as The Hanging Gaol) and now for the new one I seem to be stuck in Newgate. Can't help wondering if this says something about my mental state!

Above is Lancaster Castle which served as a gaol in the seventeenth century and features in The Lady's Slipper. The Romans under Agricola made their camp on the hill above Lancaster in 79 AD, now the hill has the twin landmarks of Priory and Castle. The gate shown here was built in the reign of Henry V, and the statue over the archway is of John of Gaunt.

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